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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

Objective and subjective standards. What the Bible
says vs. what one's interpretation of what the Bible says

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Objective and Subjective Standards:

In a recent Letter to the Editor of my local paper (Charleston, IL Journal Gazette/Times Courier) a gent commented about the Ohio senator who recently changed his mind about the issue of gay marriage. Since this Senator’s change of heart as upset many Republicans and fundamentalist Christians I think it is worthy of further discussion.

This letter writer said, "Senator Portman is a Republican from Ohio and in an op-ed piece he wrote, 'Ultimately, for me, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we all are children of God.'

The Letter writer then said,"This is commendable, but biblically illiterate. Exactly what is the Bible’s over-arching theme of love?"

This gent says the Bibles overarching theme is expressed in Titus 2:11-12:

"... teaching us to deny ungodliness and live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world."

The actual wording from my New Revised Standard Version states:

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, ..."

  • Impious by the way simply means not showing reverence for God.

  • Worldly passions is up for some interpretation but if having a loving committed relationship with another person is a worldly passion then heterosexual marriage should also be condemned, not just homosexual marriage.

  • Self-control, well to me that means control over our temper, over our prejudices and biases, over our greed and desire for wealth, power, influence, and our words and actions.

  • Righteously, that is also up for interpretation. But I don’t think anyone can claim to be righteous when they deny others their basic human rights based on lies and misinformation. The Bible does tell us to not bear false witness against our neighbors.

  • And godly. Well do you really think that God can’t have respect and compassion for those that are different, those that are oppressed, or down trodden, those that…….. That he can’t know what’s in the heart and mind of homosexuals as well as heterosexuals? I think to be godly, is to recognize and show respect for the basic goodness in people wherever it is found.

I also don’t see how homosexuals any less than heterosexuals aren’t able to do all of this, "renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly," to live goodly lives. Although I personally am not concerned about impiety since you can’t be impious towards a God that I don’t think exists!

One other point don’t the words "in the present age" refer to the times in which we are now living? Implying that standards or laws of a different age may no longer be appropriate for our own?

The writer ends with:

"Those who apply a standard of morality apart from God’s standard can have no moral standard that is objective; the only standard left to implement is that standard which belongs to man and that, by its very nature, is a subjective standard.

Thus, to stand and look at something objectively is to start with an ‘I think’ and to implement either God’s standard of morality or one’s own."

This letter writer obviously thinks that his opinion about God’s standard of morality is an objective one and that the Senator’s opinion is merely a subjective one.

He fails to realize that there is nothing objective about the opinions he has expressed in his letter, in his beliefs about the Bible being the inerrant word of God, about his opinions on homosexuality, about……… Well about everything. Even the passages he chooses as being of prime importance, those he chooses to be of secondary importance and those passages he chooses to ignore are all chosen by his subjective opinion.

Everything we humans think is filtered through the lens of our perception. Our thoughts are shaped by our experiences, by what we read, by what we are taught, by what we see/feel/touch and taste. There may be some objective truths about God out there, about what he considers right/wrong, moral/immoral, what he expects from us. But we mere humans can’t view those "truths" objectively.

There is a difference between opinion and fact. The words in the Bible are facts (they are there), how we interpret the MEANING of those words is subjective opinion. Even claiming the Bible is the word of God is a subjective opinion not objective fact.

Scientists, historians, scholars, researchers (and some of us common folk) try to gather, analyze and present the "facts" as objectively as we can. There are some that search for facts that fit their preconceived opinions. With the Scientists, Historians, Scholars and Researchers they at least have a peer review process that works fairly well at weeding out the misinterpretation (subjective opinions) about those facts.

Social issues, religious beliefs, prejudices and preferences aren’t factual, objective truths. They are subjective opinions. We can use facts to help us form wise and intelligent opinions or we can ignore facts and when we do we often make unwise, and harmful choices. Harmful to ourselves and to others.

Where do our opinions about what is right or wrong moral or immoral come from? From many places: our parents, teachers, church leaders, friends, companions, mentors (including gang leaders), television, books (secular and religious), and from our own thoughtful and serious consideration of what is right, moral, just, honest, fair, worthy, beneficial or harmful (for us and others) and what isn’t.

For those like me that don’t believe in a God/s, our guiding principles come from our recognition of the commonalities among all humans whatever their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, country of origin, religion or lack thereof, and our realization that the old Pagan advice to not do to others what you would not want them to do to you was pretty wise. As Senator Portman put it, "we are all children of God".

They also come from our recognition of our connection to all living things and that this planet is the only one we have got and we had better learn to take better care of it.

I think that it is time folks like this gent that wrote a Letter to the Editor of my local paper, try to look a bit more objectively about their own subjective thoughts and opinions before they condemn others for theirs!

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Originally written: 2012-MAR-31
Latest update: 2012-MAR-31
Author: Susan Humphreys

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